It always seems that no matter what the community anticipates, every E3 boils down to the eternal struggle between Microsoft and Sony.
You may remember that fateful E3 a while back when the two juggernauts were at each others throats prior to the launch of their respective next gen consoles. It was a fantastic time for Sony because it was a terrible time for Microsoft. The Redmond giant couldn’t get any announcement regarding the Xbox One to fire with the community, from “disc in the drawer DRM” to a purported requirement for the Kinect to be present, there was nothing that Microsoft could say or do that wasn’t picked up on by Sony, who filled their keynote with unambiguous jabs at their competitor’s gaffes. That year, it was widely agreed by all but the most diehard Xbox fans that Sony “won” E3.
Now with some water under the bridge, the consoles have been coasting along thanks to their respective fan bases. The skulduggery of console exclusives has helped each camp gain more followers: The Playstation gets some exclusive content for Destiny, while it was announced that the Xbox would get the next Tomb Raider, for example. A lot of games we’d fawned over in the past, like The Division and The Order 1886 were either pushed far into the future, or fell flat on release. Since the consoles release dates, consumers had fallen into a kind of a lull, put to sleep by a dull buzz of a tepid release schedule through 2014.
The writing was on the wall for E3 2015 was that either camp could announce almost anything and get a decent response, so I think this year’s E3 hype train left the station well in advance of the actual event. Personally, I got tired of the countdowns and the previews, but when the only way you can go is up, anything and everything is magnified. It was a “hold your breath” day yesterday as Microsoft started out in the morning, and Sony followed up in the evening.
This time, Microsoft wasn’t pulling any punches. They didn’t say anything about “television”, or even talk about “Kinect”. The social media community was giving Microsoft the thumbs up for having women presenters on stage. The biggest bombshell was that the Xbox One was getting backwards compatibility, allowing users to verify ownership of a physical Xbox 360 game and to download a version to their next gen machine. They also announced a preview system —  which is very much like Steam’s “Early Access” program — for some high-profile titles. We saw Hololens in action, as they demoed a new version of Minecraft that floated above the stage ad provided a gods-eye view of the blocky world below. Of course there were the games: Halo 5: Guardians, Fallout 4, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6 Siege, Gigantic, a new Gears of War, and Rise of the Tomb Raider. The audience learned about an upcoming collection of remastered Rare titles, and a look at a co-op PvP pirate ship combat games called Sea of Thieves. It seemed like everything Microsoft pushed out onto the stage resonated with the crowd.
Sony had a big act to follow. We know they’ve got bravado, having outsold the XB1 early on without breaking a sweat. Did they have enough this year to top Microsoft’s game? In short, no. They opened with The Last Guardian, a long-awaited title that really struck a chord with the crowd and on social media. They followed that with a strange but compelling new monster hunter style game called Horizon which featured a paleolithic-esque hunter stalking robotic wildlife on a post-apocalyptic Earth. People seemed to really like that one. Then it slid downhill. Another Hitman game. Street Fighter V. Some weird acid-trip of a game from Media Molecule (Little Big Planet, Tearaway) called Dreams that looked like a claymation studio tool. Some gameplay from the long-awaited No Man’s Sky that didn’t impress as much as I think people hoped it would. This was followed by an announcement of DLC for Destiny, and a sales pitch for a Shenmue 3 Kickstarter campaign which sent the social media world into a fit of irritation, anger, and snark. The bright spot for a lot of people was a brief teaser for a remake of Final Fantasy VII in what looks to be full-on 3D, on par with the most recent Final Fantasy offerings. Sony closed by showing a glitchy preview of the next Uncharted game, and that was that.
I haven’t seen anyone claim that Sony “won” anything this year. Their presentation started off strong and continued until they slipped into the doldrums, and emerged with some really head-scratching moments. The interlude of Final Fantasy VII was a sigh of relief, but the sad technical problem during the Uncharted presentation — the only technical issue I think either company had on stage this year — ended Sony’s show on a sour note.
Just a few years ago people sunk their teeth into Microsoft’s exposed neck and refused to let go for weeks after E3 had ended, dogging the company across the Internet for their policy decisions. Sony sat back and laughed, secure in knowing that they had “won” E3 that year. Now the pendulum swings the other way. People are happy with Microsoft’s presentation, the titles that were announced, the show they put on, and the spectacle of their technology. Sony, on the other hand, seemed passive and content, like they took the stage after a Thankgiving feast and would have rather been on a couch watching football.
In the grand scheme of things, however, both presentations were pretty good in terms of content. Sony had a few more “updates” to titles we’ve been waiting for than Microsoft did, but Sony also had some tricks up it’s sleeve with The Last Guardian and Final Fantasy VII which mean a lot to some people. What goes up must come down, and while people are still scratching their heads over the Shenmue 3 affair, remember that Microsoft was on the losing end of E3 2014. The Internet likes expressing it’s snark but has a short attention span, and by this time next year we’ll have reset the scoreboard for E3 2016.
Footnote: Obviously we don’t have Nintendo covered here. They’re traditionally scheduled apart from Microsoft and Sony, and Nintendo in general is often held apart from the other two simply because they’re Nintendo. People expect different things from Nintendo than they do from Sony and Microsoft, and are generally only considered to be “in contention” when they achieve a very high “wow” factor. In a nutshell, expect the usual: more talk about Amibo, additional teasers about the Legend of Zelda game, and social media lamenting over their favorite Nintendo games they wish the company would revisit.